10 Easy Steps To The Best Car Deal

Driving off a dealer’s lot in a shiny new car can be exhilarating, but the hours you might spend haggling to get to that point can be about as pleasant as a tax audit. Buyers tell us they often feel manipulated by sales staff. Or they worry that they paid too much for their vehicle, got too little for their trade-in, or were pressured into buying features they didn’t need.

Here at Consumer Reports, we buy all the cars we test (about 80 a year), so we know how stressful it can be, and we’ve learned effective tricks and strategies. Below is our step-by-step car-buying process based on the experiences we’ve had in hundreds of dealerships. And best of all, much of it can be done from your home.

  1. Start online. Before you head out to dealerships, go to automaker websites. There you can check out prices, trim lines, and options. The sites will spell out the name and content of each option package and provide suggested retail prices. Most let you “build” the car you want and provide access to the inventories of dealerships near you. But be aware that the car you build might not always be available. While you’re at the computer, also go to the websites of dealerships in your area. Dealer sites might list the actual cars on hand and advertise any consumer incentives. You can also get a rundown of any cash rebates and behind-the-scenes dealer incentives at car-pricing websites and through Consumer Reports’ New Car Price Reports, which cost $14. They also show current transaction prices.
  2. Take test drives. Go to dealerships and drive any vehicle you’re considering with the options and powertrain you plan to get. Spend about a half-hour in each car and drive it in a variety of road conditions. Pay attention to such things as seat comfort and passenger space. But don’t let the sales staff pressure you into negotiating at this stage.
  3. Get approved for financing early. Shop online for financing or contact local banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions to see what interest rates they are offering on auto loans. Then see how the dealership’s financing compares. Taking care of this in advance and getting pre-approved for a loan takes a lot of stress out of the negotiating phase.
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